By  on July 25, 2005

LOS ANGELES — Pacific Sunwear got a new chief executive officer this year and now it has a new look.

The teen surf and skate apparel retailer last week unveiled a 9,000-square-foot prototype at the Tyler Galleria mall in Riverside, Calif.

“We really wanted a more iconic look instead of elements that were all individual and not put together [like in the other stores],” said Tom Kennedy, division president at PacSun.

Customers enter the store through a curving entrance of high-gloss and wood skate ramps that flank either side. A T-shirt rotunda helps to visually break up the store and add interest, as does an equally curvaceous cash-wrap area and an expansive shoe wall.

Light woods, sleek white halogen lights, Sixties-style pendant lamps and curved wood tables and display cases lend a Mod but sophisticated vibe to the store. Emmy award-winning director and photographer Michael Franzini has done a series of life-size photos depicting surfers, waves and palm trees. 

It is the first rollout of the new look, which is set to eventually replace existing designs.

The Anaheim, Calif.-based company has been riding a wave of new growth, which began with former ceo Greg Weaver, who has taken on the role of chairman and passed the baton to Seth Johnson in April. PacSun has been creating division chief positions to support its deeper expansion into areas such as denim, its shift to more feminine product offerings and a new retail concept that will be unveiled soon.

The new store, which expanded into what was once a Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurant, is in one of the company’s most teen-friendly and profitable locations. It is almost triple the size of its typical 3,500-square-foot locations.

The next store in this format is scheduled to open in the following month in Volusia, Fla., at 6,000 square feet. PacSun plans another 20 stores in this new concept around the country by the end of the year, at sizes ranging from 4,000 to 8,000 square feet.

“Breezier,” is how Kennedy describes the lighter, hipper and more cohesive showcase. The older stores had begun to feel washed-up in fluorescent lighting, dated paneling, generic rounders and long, hanging racks that screamed “mall.”“All of the vertical retailers are playing at the top of the game,” Kennedy said. “And I think a kid is into [visual] integration of a concept as much as the adult is these days.”

But it’s the sheer volume of product assortment and the huge denim push that will immediately resonate with teens, particularly the girls. Embellished, destroyed, paint-splattered and other denim in various washes were selling for two pairs for $60, or $42.50 a pair. They fill tables and shelves, as do belts, hoodies, T-shirts and tracksuits done in more feminine pinks, chocolates and oranges.

“When you’re able to put products together to create outfits and put it together face out like they did, you can really sell product,” said Liz Pierce, an analyst with the investment firm Sanders Morris Harris.

Previously, the T-shirts at the stores were arranged by color and size, but the new model, which features tables and shelves, allows for better display of merchandise. Vignette stands placed throughout the store also help showcase new looks.

Pierce, who visited the store earlier in the week, said that she was pleased with the new design. “It’s time for a fresh look and it allows them to really leverage the girls’ business,” she said.

While the apparel assortment only increased by 15 percent, the real push came from accessories and shoes, with each category increased by 40 percent. The majority of the accessories, which range from shell necklaces and wood bangles to cell phone cases and school folders, were done under PacSun’s proprietary label, Tilt, in order to create brand consistency.

Shoes make up 37 percent of the business. The company also added a lifestyle category, which featured everything from luggage and home products by Roxy to sheet sets from Lilu and Paul Frank.

“I think we all know that accessories is still a hot category,” Pierce said. “This girl wears it, so why give the business to Forever 21 or others.”

PacSun’s Kennedy did not offer sales projections for the new concept, except to say that executives are “expecting a significant jump in sales per square foot for the new prototype stores. Tyler was already one of our highest in sales per square foot.”The company this month reported that same-store sales for the PacSun division for the period ended July 2 increased 4.9 percent compared with the same period last year. Total sales for the second quarter of 2005 were $481.2 million, an increase of 13.7 percent over total sales of $423.3 million during the same period last year.

As to whether this more fashion-forward concept will possibly alienate the harder-core surf and skate customer, Pierce said that she’s not worried.

“I think what people want to do is pigeonhole the brand,” she said. “This girl is aspirational, evolving and highly aware and driven by what’s happening in entertainment world.”

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